Bowling Green will host a National Day of Prayer celebration in front of the Wood County Courthouse this Thursday at noon, but the service will only offer Christian speakers and out-loud prayers.
Kristel Asmus, who has organized the event for the last 27 years, said the observance of the day would be Christian-oriented in an early December meeting with the Wood County Commissioners.
Asmus later clarified that members of other religions may attend the event but are not allowed to pray under the current rules.
She also said any religious group may hold a similar prayer event on the same day but added that other groups cannot hold such events at the same time and place in front of the courthouse.
“They can have their event, and I can have mine,” Asmus said.
Her stance is in line with that of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a non-profit organization with private funding that focuses on supporting the national event’s Christian participation.
“The Task Force represents a Judeo-Christian expression of the national observance, based on our understanding that this country was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible,” according to the NDP Task Force website. The task force also looks to “mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families.”
Ahmad Mehmood, a BGSU graduate with a master’s in engineering technology, said he and other members of the school’s Muslim Students Association were “very keen on responding” when word of the limitations first came out.
Mehmood, who comes from India, called the limitations “otherizing” and endowed with an undercurrent of Islamophobia. The statement comes from a place of ignorance, and the notion Muslims worship a “different God” is incorrect, Mehmood said.
He said Islam’s recognition of “Jesus (peace be upon him) ... as an article of faith” and “Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Covenant to Christians” — a message that tells Muslims to protect Christians — irrefutably connects it to Christianity.
The MSA holds and participates in events which look to foster dialogue between different religions, including a multifaith panel about climate change held in April.
However, the group will not be hosting an event specifically to counter the National Day of Prayer. Instead, Mehmood says the group hopes to arrange a discussion with Asmus about this situation.
They just want to know her concerns, Mehmood said.
He said this kind of talk or other talks with residents have not yet been arranged, but the group looks forward to such opportunities in the future.
The congregation at Trinity United Methodist Church, located across from the courthouse, will not be participating in the event.
Rev. Andrea Curry from Trinity issued a statement soon after Asmus’ decision last year said the church would not participate in the event. The note argued participating would go against the religion’s identity as “a church of open hearts, open doors and open minds.”
Trinity also withdrew its role as a location option for the event in case of inclement weather, a role it has held in the past.
One community member, Debi Clifford, has attempted to host an alternative celebration accepting all faiths on the same day, but no official announcement or confirmation has been made yet about that event. Other community members also sent requests for an alternative event to the city.
Asmus has received pushback herself for this stance, both from the Wood County Commissioners and from different community members. She said multiple letters asking for a replacement in her position have appeared alongside more vitriolic notes, including one she said told her to “Go to Hell.”
Previous attempts by Bowling Green residents to remedy the celebration of the event led to the creation of the Interfaith Breakfast, inviting members of all faiths to eat, pray and discuss relevant issues together. The most recent breakfast was themed “Building Peace Where There is No Peace,” done in the wake of the Christchurch, New Zealand, shootings at multiple mosques.
MSA was part of the organizing committee for the event this year, and Mehmood said it “broke some ice” in the community.
However, Mehmood added that, so long as people refuse to talk deeply about these issues, smaller acts of discrimination — like this prayer day celebration — are reflective of a “larger popular ideological undercurrent in our society which is based in hate and ignorance.”
Editor’s note: Ahmad Mehmood requested the insertion of the phrase “peace be upon him” after references to Muhammad and Jesus.